KID SHIRT

Thursday, September 01, 2005

ATV Vs. PTV

Following on from this post, another vague linkage between the Throbbing Gristle and Alternative TV camps is manifested by this 7” alt.pop curiosity:



I Confess” by Dorothy is a Post-Camp ‘list’ song, an anti-matter version of “These Are a Few Of My Favourite Things”, with breathless, unashamedly ‘girly’ vocals, and lyrics that are so chocful of self-consciously knowing pop-cultural references that I’m surprised my record-player doesn’t groan in embarrassment when I play it. This record is not half as clever as it thinks it is, but it’s still bloody brilliant. Check dis:

“I love boys in Beatle boots/And tall, slim girls in well-cut suits/the same brand fags as Philip Marlowe/Cajun music from the bayou/ Oh, oh, uh-ho, oh, I confess!”

“Sinatra’s ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers’/magazines in shrink-wrapped covers/TV theme-tunes like ‘Bonanza’/The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. April Dancer/ Oh, oh, uh-ho, oh, I confess!”

I’ve had a huge soft-spot for this record for years. In fact, logic dictates that I record a cover version of “I confess” in which I confess that I love “I Confess”: a Meta-List-Song, anyone?

Released in on Industrial Records (Catalogue no. IR0014), “I Confess” appears, primarily, to be the work of ex-ATV guitarist (and eventual PTV-collaborator) Alex Fergusson, who is pictured on the back-cover hanging out (in Soho Square?) with Dorothy:



The sleeve-notes claim that she's 19 years old, but she looks like she could be even younger and the front-cover photo has a weird, queasy vibe that reminds me of the fake paedo-photos that came with Throbbing Gristle’s “Third Annual Report” LP (or the Sickmob cover!). Maybe it’s a deliberate thing, or maybe, as usual, I’m just reading non-existent shit between the lines here, but she looks, well, underage, and the whole thing feels like some sort of twisted auto-critique on, I dunno, media/music biz exploitation of teenage talent, etc with Fergusson playing the pervy Serge Gainsbourg style Pop Svengali who gets young girls to sing adult-themed material for middle-aged male titillation.

There’s a vague French Pop vibe to this song (though it’s a shame the shoestring production budget didn’t stretch to some strings), ages before that whole bloody Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Anita Ward smacked-out art-tosser crowd started style-checking Gainsbourg & Co…Dorothy’s vocal performance is uncertain and hesitant, deliberately naïve, which highlights her age and heightens the sense of vulnerability…yet there is also a strong sense that she is willingly implicated in her own ‘exploitation’. Song and performance overlap to create complex internal tensions; social transgressions and moral ambiguity are hinted at, but never fully explained or resolved.

The list in the song is a narrative device designed to suggest that ‘Dorothy’ is privy to all sorts of cool secret ‘adult’ cultural knowledge that is meant to be beyond her age (and gender). This then raises all sorts of internal questions about who taught her about this stuff, and why. It comes off as an act of conceptual sleight-of-hand in which the performer is seemingly transformed by the song into a sexually-available adult, yet, at the same time, it also succeeds in exposing the process itself.

So much for theory, though. Some further research produced this snippet of info from Alex Fergusson: “From 1979 to 1981 I had a song assignment deal with Southern music in London - I could use their 8-track studio to demo songs as long as they got the publishing rights. I wrote a variety of songs during that period and Industrial Records liked “I Confess” so much that they wanted to put it out as a single, so we needed a B-side. Genesis P-Orridge gave me the lyrics to “Softness”. I knew Gen from when I was in Alternative TV, so it is interesting that "Softness" should become my first musical collaboration with him…”

‘Dorothy’ turns up later in a mid-80s incarnation of PTV credited as ‘Max’. Her real name is, I think, Dorothy Max Prior, but, so far, my attempts in getting her side of the “I Confess” story have failed, which is a shame since I thought it would be great if she was able to wade in and completely demolish my pompous mock-conceptualisation of her music. It adds a whole new layer of tension to writing this sort of crappy pseudo-critique, if there’s a big chance I’m going to be blown out of the water and exposed as the charlatan that I truly am by the original artist.

The B-Side’s pretty good, too.